Every broadcaster that ever worked for Ben Mondor can probably tell the same story.
At some point before your first day behind the mic, the legendary owner of the PawSox asked you to come down to his office to discuss his expectations for the team’s radio announcers.
“Kid,” Ben said in a stern voice. “I’ve read about these major league radio men with their multi-year contracts. Well, that’s not how it works around here. Your contract isn’t multi-year or year-to-year. It’s not even month-to-month or game-to-game. Your deal is pitch-to-pitch because I’ll be listening to every word!”
Then he broke into a big grin.
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I was on vacation in Vancouver on Monday with my wife Peg and our son Sam when I learned of Ben’s passing at the age of 85. I’ve spent the day thinking about what an incredible life he lived and how many lives he touched.
He is one of the kindest, funniest, and most generous people I have ever known.
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Sam Hoard was born one month into my first year as a Pawtucket broadcaster in May of 2006. The following season when Peg brought him to his first baseball game, Ben insisted that they watch the game from the comfort of his luxury box next to the PawSox dugout.
Peg brought milk, Cheerios, and other appropriate snacks for a 1-year-old, but at some point while she was talking to Ben, Sam stuck his hand into the adult food and grabbed a shrimp.
Sure enough he loved it and tried to snatch another. Peg tried to gently tell Sam that the shrimp was not for him, but Ben wouldn’t have it.
“Hey, the kid is smart — who wants Cheerios when you can have shrimp,” Ben said with a belly laugh. “He can have as much shrimp as he wants!”
Sam turned four this year and has had the good fortune to watch several games from the owner’s luxury box over the last few years.
His friend Mr. Mondor always had a tray of shrimp waiting.
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I suspect the delivery person in our neighborhood is under the mistaken impression that I’m the world’s most thoughtful husband.
For the past few years, Peg has received flowers on every appropriate occasion — Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, her birthday — you name it, the flowers have arrived like clockwork.
Only I had nothing to do with it.
Ben Mondor recognized that the spouses of his full-time employees faced a difficult burden because of the amount of time that we spend away from home, so he made a point over the years to always have the team send something thoughtful on holidays.
I told Peg today that I’m going to have to start jotting those dates down.
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I’m really going to miss his stories.
Ben was one of world’s greatest storytellers and I loved to drop by his office and throw out names of some of the great players who have worn the Pawtucket uniform to get his off-the-cuff reaction.
Here are some classic Mondor Memories:
“He’s the best. A great guy and he’s very misunderstood by the media because he’s a private guy. It’s an insult that they waited 15 years to put him into the Hall of Fame. This was the most feared hitter in baseball in the ’70′s. Look at his achievements – they’re unbelievable. Good God, he won the Triple Crown when he was here and it hasn’t been done since. Nobody’s even come close.”
“He was a great athlete. When the Red Sox promoted him from Trenton, Ed Kenney called me and said they wanted me to keep an eye on him because they were worried that they were bringing him up to Triple-A too fast. So we would just sit down and talk. I tell you one thing – he shot one of baseball’s theories to hell: Not swinging at the first pitch. He would always swing at the first pitch and hit about .347. He was a great fielder, he could turn the double play like nobody’s business and he didn’t toot his own horn.”
“If you want to win a free beer from your buddies at the saloon, ask them this question, ‘What’s the only team that Roger Clemens pitched for where he finished with a losing record?’ It’s Pawtucket – he was 2-3. He was just a young kid out of the University of Texas and he was only with us for a couple of months. The guy could pitch. I used to watch in his later years and think half of it was intimidation. He threw so hard and was so good that they were never comfortable in the batters box.”
“Manny was my favorite ballplayer of all time. He spent a month with us on rehab and he loved it here. He lived like a king, didn’t have to worry about all of those major league rules, and he supplied us with a lifetime of stories in one month. I remember one game, it was about the fifth or sixth inning and I heard the manager say, ‘Where’s Ramirez?’ because there was nobody in left field. It seems that Manny had been talking to a clubhouse kid whose father had a barbershop on Newport Avenue. So he hopped in his car and went to get a haircut in the middle of a game – uniform and all. The manager went nuts, but we thought it was hysterical. Like him or don’t like him, he certainly entertained us.”
“I enjoy him tremendously contrary to our managers. You see, Daisuke has a habit of loading the bases or putting two men on and then striking out three men. That drives a manager crazy and I laugh my head off because I think it’s the most entertaining thing in baseball.”
“I wish he was my brother – that nice a guy. He was a really classy guy to have around. He set a good example for the other guys in the clubhouse and so forth. We were proud to have him here and I wish he would come back often.”
“You mean The Jose Canseco? He was a big pain in the rump who thought he was the most important thing in the world. He came here and he was something like 1-for-31. And he asked for something every single day. Then he would go out in left field and it was an adventure. Sometimes he caught them, sometimes they hit him, sometimes they went over his head.”
“I have a gripe with all of the so-called baseball experts because they don’t know any more than I do. When Pedroia was here they said, ‘He’ll never make it. He’s too short. Too plump. No arm, no speed, no range, can’t hit.’ After he left us, he won every award in the American League that could be had … Rookie of the Year … MVP. Did they know what they were talking about? I’m so glad he won all of those awards because he deserved it. Everything they said that he couldn’t do — he did. So what does that tell you about all of the experts.”
* * * * *
I read recently that there are 292 pitches in an average professional baseball game.
If I did the math right, my pitch-to-pitch contract with Ben Mondor lasted for approximately 210,240 pitches.
I hope he enjoyed them half as much as I did.
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